Audiobook review: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

This thought-provoking insight from Malcolm that will jump right at you: “We cannot detect a lie not because we have no doubts. The truth is when there are not enough doubts, we revert to truth.”

In hindsight, with someone’s failure to spot a liar, we can say that there are all kinds of red flags. That is the wrong way to think about what had happened. The right question is: “Were there enough red flags to push you over the threshold of believe. If there weren’t, by defaulting to truth, then you are only being human.”

Malcolm states that it is human nature to default to truth or else society cannot function properly.

This insight really shifted my mindset. Sometimes, we wondered why there would be still be other people who get cheated when in the media, there are reports of how scammers work. With this insight, it might be there were not enough red flags, and being humans, we tend to believe in the goodness of people, which is why those people chose to believe.

Malcolm explains that research shows that even the best in professions such as policeman, judges, interrogators, who we believe has the training and skill to spot a liar, only achieved slightly better than the flip of a coin. The truth is every person, even the supposedly untrained person, is able to perfectly spot a liar when they match – that is when the liar exhibits behaviour which we associate with lying – shifty eyes, nervous demeanour, incoherent speech. However, when people do not match, which happens when their behaviours do not match what we think they should behave, it is when our judgements fail us. Maybe watching too many sitcoms which tends to exaggerate a person behaviour based on his thoughts, could make us believe that we can really read a person’s thoughts from his demeanour.

In reality, this might be further from the truth than we think. People behaves in different manner, even in the same kind of situation.   

Malcolm says that the search to understand strangers has real limits. We will not know the whole truth. Malcom advises that the right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.

A distinct kind of audio book. This is read by the author himself and includes snippets of interviews – truly a book coming alive in audio format! I recommend this book to those who likes to know more about how to communicate better, not only to strangers, but to those around us. This audio book with the interview snippets makes the ideas behind the book much more explicit.

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